Undermining Democracy

“Anything is better than lies and deceit!”

– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

There are lies and then there are big lies.

“In ‘the greatness of the lie there is always a certain element of credibility because the broad masses of the people can be more easily corrupted in the deeper reaches of their hearts’ than consciously or deliberately.

‘In the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves sometimes lie about small things but were too ashamed of lies that were too big.’”

A truthful, lucid Donald Trump explaining lying at a rally? A memo to Trump by one of his close advisers? A scholarly examination of lying?

None of the above. This was Adolf Hitler in his autobiography,” Mein Kampf.” The similarity between what Hitler wrote and what he and Trump practiced – more than 30,000 lies during his presidency, The Washington Post tallied – is eerily similar. Too eerily familiar and sinister.

Benjamin Carter Hett, a history professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, quoted the Nazi leader in “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic.” He has written extensively about Nazi Germany.

Hett’s book, published during Trump’s term in 2018, is pertinent to current events as the ex-president and much of his Republican Party and their followers insist that Trump won an election, a contest they charge was rigged and stolen from him by some fantastical vast “deep state” conspiracy. It was designed to ensure he wouldn’t regain the White House, they say, despite all evidence to the contrary – from state voting records to the courts.

A May 17-19 national Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 53 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the election over the true president, Joe Biden. This Big Lie is a cornerstone of Trumpian and Republican campaigns for the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential run, for which Trump has been teasing he may seek reelection.

Some have compared Trump to fascists like Hitler and Benito Mussolini, if for no other reason than some of his tactics used to seek popularity and national office are similar, particularly the lying, in which Hitler seemed to specialize. Germany was a democracy until President Paul von Hindenburg, a general and a hero of World War I, reluctantly appointed Hitler chancellor Jan. 30, 1933 after the Nazi Party scored parliamentary election victories.

“. . . Hitler’s finance minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, observed, ‘He wasn’t even honest towards his most intimate confidants.  . . . In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth,” Hett wrote.

“The president of the United States is divorced from reality, unable to tell the difference between truth and what he wants to be true,” wrote Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald Feb. 4, 2017, mere weeks after Trump’s inauguration.

From Harvard psychoanalyst Walter Langer in “A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend,” 1943, written at the request of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA:

“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

We experienced much the same over four years.

Once lying starts, twisting and corrupting the truth of events to match one’s goals – even if it means defying what one sees with his own eyes – lying gets easier and easier because what is real becomes meaningless to the liar.

Take Ashli Babbitt, for example, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran from San Diego whom a police officer shot dead as she stormed the Capitol. The Trumpists, followed by their once respectable party, are turning her from an unlawful invader of a sacred and symbolic government building into a martyr for their cause.

“Who shot Ashli Babbitt?” Trump intoned repeatedly following her death.

“I want to know why is the person who shot Ashli Babbitt getting away with murder?” he said in a statement.

It wasn’t murder. The officer was doing his duty protecting members of Congress from a violent mob. His identity has not been revealed and he is not charged with a crime.

The Post quoted Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican consultant who opposes Trump, as saying the GOP seeks to contort the reality of Jan. 6 because its president “inspired domestic terrorists to besiege the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election.”

“That’s not a very good picture, so you have to create an alternative reality – that Trump won and these were good Americans,” he said. “What stirs up more emotion than an innocent woman – a former Air Force vet – who is shot attempting to restore the legally elected president?”

“Ashli Babbitt has been made into a martyr to the Trump cult like Horst Wessel was turned into a martyr by the Nazis,” wrote Robert Morgart, 77, of Santa Fe, NM, in an email. He is an adjunct professor at New Mexico Highlands University. His master’s thesis was about the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Wessel was a Berlin officer of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazis’ brown shirted stormtroopers. Communists killed him and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels made him a martyr for the Nazi cause.

“The key to understanding why many Germans supported him [Hitler] lies in the Nazi’s rejection of a rational, factual world,” Hett wrote in “The Death of Democracy.” “Hitler himself, in the words of his biographer Joachim Fest, was ‘always thinking the unthinkable,’ and ‘in his statements an element of bitter refusal to submit to reality invariably emerged.’”

The upshot?

Donors reportedly gave Trump an astounding $82 million in the first half of this year and he has about $102 million saved. An Economist/YouGov poll shows that 90 percent of Republican voters favor Trump. And there are polls showing he’s favored to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

The outrageous Trump phenomenon, backed by extremists and White supremacists, with the Republican Party saluting and obeying it and helping it to systematically undermine our democracy by suppressing and controlling voting, has created a fifth column-like entity that poses unusually dangerous times for our country. That’s the reality.

 

Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.